Horror and the absence of God

I love horror movies. They are far and away my favourite film genre.

Just saying that has got me some very bad looks from Christians before now, but allow me to explain why …

There are lots of reasons to like horror movies: they tend to be very ironic and self-aware, which is always good, a lot of effort is put into the visual aspects of the film – something I personally like, they are aware of their own history and make lots of backward references, they produce a rush of adrenaline, they allow us to explore feelings about death and fear we might otherwise have to confront for the first time in real life.

(There are doubtless many more reasons, but let me stop there.)

Now, I could go into a discussion about whether films can corrupt us etc., and there a probably quite a few people reading this who have decided for example that they don’t want to watch 18-rated films, etc. However, I want to put that debate aside for another day. I don’t know whether it’s right to watch “evil”-seeming films or not. What I’m interested in is why I _want_ to watch them.

The reason (or maybe just a part of the reason) only struck me quite recently. I think it’s because they represent a world that I can recognise: one in which good and evil exist (in fact they are often explicitly set within a Christian worldview) but in which God is absent or only vaguely involved.

Let’s take some examples:

The Exorcist, probably my all-time favourite horror movie, and a serious attempt to scare containing little or no irony, is about two priests who attempt to exorcise a demon from a 12-year-old girl. The film is controversial because the actions of the little girl while acting possessed are extremely disturbing. More importantly for this discussion, the universe in which it is set is a perfect example of what I’m talking about: Christianity is true, but God is extremely inaccessible while the evil force of a demon is readily accessible and tangible. At the end the demon is not defeated but persuaded to move from the girl into one of the priests, killing him. Whether this condemned him to hell is unclear, but it is not a happy ending.

Another of my favourites, The Omen trilogy is again set in an explicitly Christian world. The film makers have tried faithfully to represent the words of the book of Revelation as they interpret them, in particular the parts about the antichrist. Several Christians throughout the series attempt to kill the antichrist, unsuccessfully, and finally at the end an impersonal bright light – God – appears and effortlessly kills the antichrist. This begs the question: why did God not intervene earlier?

But doesn’t our whole life beg that question?

Of course many horror films are not set within an explicit Christian context, and here the analogy is weaker, but they still represent a world in which evil is obvious and tangible while good is squeezed out of human hearts, possibly with grudging support from the creator. I think this is what attracts me to them.

I am a Christian. I do believe in God, and at the moment I don’t often worry about whether or not that is true (so I’m lucky given what I know some here are experiencing). I do believe that God is all-powerful, and that we are on the winning side. But, like Job, I just think that it doesn’t often feel that way. God seems distant.

I try to have a relationship with him, and I do love him in some way, but he just seems distant.

In a way it’s not a surprise – I can’t hug him or hear his voice – how could I expect to feel close to him? But we do expect to feel close to him, and he allows some of us to have that feeling at certain points in our lives. I’m sure I’ve had it, but at the moment I just try and pray, try and read the Bible and wait for him. (Isn’t there a Psalm about “I will wait for him”? Could someone look it up and post it?)

So horror films serve as a kind of therapy for me I think. They express my pent-up anger that God doesn’t intervene by portraying him how I feel he is in my angriest moments: uncaring and, fundamentally, distant.

If only life were so simple, I could just hate him and be done with it, but I know that he loves me and hates to see me feel like this, and that makes life very complicated.

Of course none of this really gives me an excuse for liking Buffy: I just think it’s cool.

Join the Conversation


  1. Once again a brilliant article, Andy. I think it’s a really significant contribution – it gets so far beyond the standard Christian debate about these films.

    I’m like you – I’m fascinated by the horror genre. This article stimulates me to think more about why that is in my case. Often, I think it’s curiosity: what is lurking? Who will survive?
    I expect there is a component of moral culpability in my watching – there’s schadenfreude (enjoying someone’s discomfort), and a strange satisfaction with an unhappy ending; but there’s also much more to it, which you’ve discussed here.

  2. I forgot to mention what inspired me to write this. Not a horror film but one I like quite a lot called The Devil’s Advocate. The devil has a speech in this film in which he accuses God of being a sadist, and, crucially for me, an “absentee landlord”. I love his speech, not because I believe it, but because it so cleverly captures what many of us feel we have against God.

  3. The problrm is sometimes, actualyy most of the time at the moment, that is exactly how I feel.

    Infact, I guess I feel that at the moment I fell like God is dead.

    Maybe He is. Whay am I still using a capital??

  4. Your article is interesting. I suppose most Christian writing about horror films is concerned with whether they’re wrong, or evil, so yours is different. I suppose I can’t really relate to it that much though, because I hate horror films. The scariest film I’ve ever seen is ‘The Sixth Sense’, and I was quite proud of myself for having sat through it. I get scared pretty easily by films and it takes me ages to get to sleep after having watched something very scary. Last week I watched ‘Donnie Darko’ again – I really love that film – but I still couldn’t get much sleep that night because I was afraid that the rabbit would suddenly appear in my room and tell me to do something…and it’s not even as though ‘Donnie Darko’ is an actual horror film, anyway. Does anyone else like it, by the way?

  5. Top article Andy.
    Very much in agreement.
    In fact, agree with some things that I didn’t even know I thought until I read them.

    Oh and this is m – I logged out before posting this. Oops!

  6. So do I – I keep missing it when it’s on, but there’s something about that rabbit that draws me to watch it…

  7. I found Sixth Sense pretty creepy myself.

    When I can’t sleep (pretty often) it’s generally some more down to earth terror like having to meet someone or do something.

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